Tuesday, November 27, 2018

100 Bridges in Russia have Collapsed in Last Year; Even More at Risk, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – Articles last week suggesting that Russia’s Kerch Straits bridge might be at risk because it is rapidly settling on a soft seabed have called attention to a larger problem: the state of Russia’s bridges more generally. Russian experts say approximately 100 have collapsed in the last year alone and that more will soon unless urgent measures are taken.

            The major reason for this problem, Nurlan Gasymov of the URA news agency says, is serious underfunding of regional programs to repair and rebuild the country’s aging infrastructure.  Many have not been fixed for more than 30 years, and their collapse is costing lives and undermining the country’s transportation network (ura.news/articles/1036276896).

            The situation is now so dire, the Siberian journalist says, that it sometimes happens that several bridges collapse in the course of a single day. On October 9, for example, that occurred, with two bridges collapsing onto the Trans-Siberian railway in Amur Oblast and a third falling down in Mordvinia.

            Mikhail Blinkin, a transportation economist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says that “an enormous number of bridges are in a dangerous situation” because they aren’t being maintained. Those in the worst shape are bridges under the responsibility of regional or local officials.  “There is no money” to do even minimal repairs, he adds.

            Worse this underfinancing of bridge repair has been true for decades, extending back into Soviet times. Now, the bill for this failure to maintain the bridges is coming do; and it is far higher than any official had anticipated, in large measure because Russia has so many rivers and thus so many bridges.

            According to Rosstat, there are abut 42,000 bridges in Russia, with a total length of 2.1 million meters. “Every ninth bridge is made of word,” and “about 500” are acknowledged to be at the point of collapse.  Many were built when the weight of trucks they had to support was half as much as the weight now.

            Aleksandr Strelnikov, a specialist at the Russian transportation ministry, says that many of the bridges were constructed inadequately and thus were going to fail regardless of maintenance.  Still worse, he continues, the quality of bridge construction has declined in recent years: it was far superior in Soviet times. Now, officials try to build bridges too quickly.

            The problem is made worse by Russia’s severe climatic conditions, but it has been hidden from many because the worst cases are in poor regions distant from the capital. Many of the bridge collapses now are not even reported in the central media, and so Russians do not know just how bad things are becoming beyond the areas in which they live.

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